Seeing Garnett and Pierce retire as members of the Celtics would be ideal. The Truth has spent all 15 of his NBA seasons in green and Garnett has represented the fiery soul of Boston for more than a half-decade.
Boston is where they won their first championship, their only championship. The Celtics have become family.
Those same familial ties have begun to detach themselves, though. Their bisection began with Ray Allen leaving to (successfully) chase a championship with the Miami Heat and continued with Doc Rivers' departure for the Los Angeles Clippers.
"It still probably hasn't hit me," Ainge said of Rivers leaving for Los Angeles, per Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston, "because I didn't really think it was going to happen.
Slowly but surely, reality will begin to set in for Ainge, the Celtics and their fanbase. In more ways than one, it already has.
Garnett was supposed to follow Rivers to Tinseltown before David Stern and the NBA through the league's Bible (the CBA) at them. Now Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News reports that the Brooklyn Nets have contacted the Celtics about brokering a deal for the future Hall of Famer.
Pierce himself has been linked to the Clippers as well. If the Celtics opt to buy him out for $5 million he can still technically join Doc in Hollywood, Stern and his rulebook connoisseurs permitting. Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe also notes that the Cleveland Cavaliers, among other organizations, are interested acquiring Pierce too.
Surrounding teams can sense that change is imminent in Boston. The Celtics were never going to run with this core forever and the end is officially nearing. And after all Pierce and Garnett have done, all they've accomplished, the Celtics owe it to them to get them out, as swiftly as possible.
Severing the bonds that have been forged between the franchise and these players (Pierce especially) will be among the most agonizing moves the Celtics have ever had to make. Knowing that Pierce and Garnett would prefer to retire in green only makes it more painful.
But it's necessary. Pierce and Garnett would also prefer to contend for a title, something the Celtics aren't prepared to do, even if they leave the current roster intact.
A healthy Rajon Rondo makes the Celtics better, but they won't be able to compete with a team like the Miami Heat or perhaps the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers as well. Believing they'll be able to piece together anything other than an early playoff exit is unrealistic.
And Pierce and Garnett shouldn't be chasing unrealistic ambitions. They should be able to play out their remaining days on a contender, a legitimate championship threat. If there can be a situation down the line, when either of them can sign a one-day contract so they can say they retired with the Celtics, then great. If not, it's time to move on anyway.
Facilitating moves to a contender is the best thing the Celtics can do for either of these legends now. Pulling the trigger on a deal that impedes Boston's future to any extent just to get Garnett and Pierce to another team isn't something Ainge is bound to do, but it's also not what he is being asked to do. Dealing the two in exchange for some financial relief and potentially some draft picks is the task at hand, and negotiating such a trade is possible.
Short of Pierce and Garnett explicitly asking Ainge to give it one more go with this exact roster, and him complying, a mutual parting of the ways is the avenue worth exploring. The Celtics need to officially commit to a reclamation project that has been a long-time coming, and Garnett and Pierce deserve the chance to play for a team that isn't in flux.
Garnett wouldn't have been so willing to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Clippers if he were open to enduring another rebuild. Ainge himself wouldn't be working the phones for either player if he truly believed retaining both was in their best interests.
None of this would be an issue if the Celtics owed Garnett and Pierce the right to go out in Boston. If the Celtics were a top team in the league and the two were being used as fodder to acquire another superstar in their prime, then there would be cause for a pause.
Boston isn't a top team though, and there are no prospective superstars lurking in the shadows to come and rescue these Celtics. There is only reality.
“I love Paul and KG,” Ainge said when asked if either would return next season, according to Kurt Heilin of NBC Sports' ProBasketballTalk. “We haven’t made a decision on that. I’m not certain on any one of those decisions.”
Certainty isn't a luxury the Celtics have had. They've been void of any guarantees for quite some time. And the road back to assurances, the kind they had in 2008, leads through change. Allen knew it, so he left. Doc did too. Now it's Garnett and Pierce's turn.
“He felt like it was time for a change,” Ainge said of Rivers. “His opinion he shared with me, he felt like we all needed a change."
Rivers was right; he is right. Flirting with change is no longer an option. It's time to embrace it by sending Garnett and Pierce somewhere they have more than loyalty to play for.
The Celtics owe them that much.
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